Tuesday, March 10, 2009
(The above pic was taken between takes at the Wind-Up Space. I can't prove it, but I think Cheryl Scungio is flipping off my brother.)
All of a sudden I'm swamped again. I got the DVD out the door to three more festivals today, including the Indie Film Jam in Florida. They weren't looking for feature lengths, only shorts and music videos. But because "Smalltimore" has 37 original songs by 11 Baltimore artists, I thought they might be interested in it and wrote to them. I received a quick reply back that they would take a look at it, and best of all I did not have to pay a submission fee!
Tomorrow night I am meeting with Tom Boynton, singer/songwriter/self-proclaimed Benevolent Dictator of The Remnants (who have a slew of songs on the soundtrack) to see if he can come up with some scoring for some scenes that do not yet have music. Thursday night I am having dinner with Phil Calvert, who played Thom, and Friday I am helping out at a membership drive/shorts fest at the Creative Alliance, so come on down for that!
Dinner with Phil gives me an excuse tonight to procrastinate just a little bit more about cleaning my apartment. The purpose of meeting up, aside from being friends and we do that once in awhile, is that Phil is considering his own leap into the realm of writer/producer/director and wants to pick my brain a bit. I will first off say to anyone in the same position, this is a great idea: take me out to dinner! Kidding... kind of. Actually, that is exactly what I did, and still do, and it is a great way to get a boatload of information. You meet someone, or know someone, who has done some work that you like, or even work that you don't. As long as they have more experience than you do - take them out for a meal. Occasionally this is met with some resistance, people are busy, or married, or both. To them I have said, "Look, you gotta eat sometime. You get a free meal and you get to talk about yourself the whole time, what's not to love?" No one has gotten out of it once I put it to them that way :) And there is nothing slick or underhanded about it, it is the absolute truth: you have knowledge, I want it, out of respect I will gladly reimburse you for your time with a meal. If you spend $20-$50 on that person for a meal spread out over 2 hours or so, it is less money than you will often pay for a class where you share the teacher with 10 or more other people. You have one-on-one time with that person, you get to get as specific as you like and skip over things you don't want to get into, and in the end, you will most likely have made a friend to boot.
Phil is my friend and I want him to succeed, so I take the matter quite seriously and want to give him some good information. His general question to me, in addition to where to even start, is "What would you do differently?" That is a very good question, and one you should ask every filmmaker that you can before making a film yourself.
Off the top of my head:
1. Hire/assign an Assistant Director. I think the AD has the single most confusing title of anyone on set. It sounds like they are also directing the actors, which is not the case at all, or at least it shouldn't be. The AD is the person who locks (quiets) the set down, makes sure actors are in wardrobe and make-up, meals are served on time, lights a fire under the Director of Photography and the crew to keep things on schedule. In short, if this person is doing their job well, they will likely be the least popular person on the set. So make sure you hire/assign the position of AD to someone who really doesn't give a shit if people like them or not. I didn't know this was what an AD did, and I tried to do it all myself. DON'T do that. It makes for VERY stressful days, and though it is likely if you are the Director you still won't be the most popular person on set, you definitely don't want to be the least popular person on set. Get someone else to do the dirty work for you.
2. Have a shot list. This wasn't anything I had ever even heard of before we got on set. It would have taken a lot of time in pre-production to complete, but it would have come in very handy during production. A list of every shot needed to be able to edit your scenes seamlessly: wide shots, medium, tight, dolly, jib, miscellaneous moving shots, and something I did not know the value of until I started editing : CUTAWAYS. Those are the little inserts you see, a pan of liquor bottles at the bar, closeup of someone flipping pages in a magazine, wine being poured into a glass, food being cooked in a skillet. I would suggest you ALWAYS factor in 2-3 cutaways per scene, they can save your life. They are the little band-aids that you can use to piece scenes together when an actor flubs a line or the camera gets bumped during an otherwise flawless scene.
The other reason to have a shot list is that it can not only save you time, but also money. You're on a very tight budget but you have access to a jib and dolly? Those things take time to set up, you can't use them for every shot. Plan out exactly the scenes you will use them in, so that the really sweet shots are spread out within the movie. Because of course, you shoot the script completely out of order, it makes it important to plan this out. If you are deciding on the fly when to use the jib, you might only use it every third day - and then when you sit down to edit it, you realize all your pretty shots take place in the first ten minutes of the movie and the rest is bland!
3. If you have to skimp, skimp on the wide (master) shots. I spent too much time on these and my coverage (single shots of actors) suffered for it because we would run out of time. When you edit, you only really start off with the wide shot, then you move in for coverage and rarely go back to the wide, unless there is some big action going on. Knowing what I know now, I would in the future try to get the wide done in three, and absolutely no more than four, takes. Many days I was doing 7 or 8, and I had some long scenes.
4. Schedule realistically. 5 to 7 pages a day is realistic. Most days I had scheduled 8 to 10 pages. Sometimes we made it, sometimes we didn't, and I had to add several pick-up days. Once you factored in my pick-up days, where we were only shooting 2-3 pages, we still averaged out at about 7 pages a day, which is good. But it would have been better to have a steady pace of 5-7 pages a day spread out over 3 weeks than 8-10 per day over two, and then have to come back several months later when everyone's schedule finally gelled again to pick up those last 10 pages spread out over 4 days. People lose weight, change their hair, shave their beards, move away, get jobs...
That being said, pick-up days are normal, and no matter how well you plan, you are probably still going to have to do a couple of them. So factor that into your schedule and budget as well. It will help your actors and crew to keep up a good pace if they know that if they don't get everything done on time, they have to come back the weekend after next.
5. Always, always have your "cans" (earphones, or earbuds). I was pretty good about asking for this and Danny, who did sound, was pretty good about making sure I had them. But sometimes we were in a hurry, or outside, and I didn't have them. And guess what? Those are the scenes I had to ADR. Sean swears by wireless lav mikes (the kind you can clip or hide in clothing, lapel mikes). I haven't tried them yet, but rest assured I will next time around. If you don't have access to them and you know you are going to be shooting somewhere where the sound is going to be horrible, factor in time THAT day to record the ADR, so you don't have to ask the actors to come in later to do it.
I know there's more, but those are the big ones that I found myself lamenting, "Why didn't I just...(fill in blank)!" Most other things sorted themselves out and/or I was well prepared for. Next posting I'll give you a list of things I did right, things that not everyone does but that I would highly recommend, and that I will always do in the future because they saved my butt. I could keep going, but I know my postings have been of epic proportions lately and I'd like to keep your attention. It (long postings) means that I need to get back to writing-writing. By the end of April I plan to have the movie completely finished, no more tweaking, and then get to work on the next script. I have some ideas and several people on board already, but can't do a thing until I have the script!